How can I not love a book that begins:
Word Number 1:
The bird sits on the table
Word Number 2:
The bird is despondent.
It goes on from there, spinning a story that somehow weaves together words like “Cake,” “Dog” and “Goat” with words like “Panache” and “Haberdashery.” It ends with a song, sung by a Mezzo-Soprano (Word 13), that ties everything together. As my 8 year-old son said, “This book just gets more and more random with every page.” And it does. Admittedly the humor is definitely more for adults, but I think my 3 year-old still enjoyed the story of the dog and the goat trying to cheer up their sad friend with a new hat (“with panache, of course.”) And my son loves new words (as a Kindergartner, he amused his teacher by complaining that his feet were “weary.”) Plus, the illustrations by Maria Kalman are vibrant and offbeat, with wonderful expressions, especially on the poor despondent bird.
My favorite two pages come at the end, with a picture of everyone seated at a table covered with a colorful variety of cakes, the bird and dog wearing their new hats, the goat playing a clarinet, the mezzo-soprano poised to eat a cupcake. And it reads, “It is a beautiful song. It has been a good day. Everyone, everyone, everyone, everyone has cake.” As a librarian, I live to read a line like that out loud to a group of small children, who probably all long to sit at a table covered in cakes. (So do I). And then, of course, in typical Lemony Snicket style, we learn that the bird “to tell you the truth, is still a little despondent.”
If you haven’t read Lemony Snicket (who is really Daniel Handler, a San Francisco novelist), you should know that all of his books, especially his “Series of Unfortunate Events,” are filled with unlucky twists of fate and unusual vocabulary, which he usually defines in a wry way within the text. My favorite of his is The Latke Who Wouldn’t Stop Screaming, which achieves something nearly impossible in the holiday genre: a book that explains the holiday without being dry, makes adults laugh, tells an entertaining story, and allows kids to scream very loudly over and over again. It is a real treasure for a children’s librarian, especially around the holidays, when I’m often faced with a shelf full of Hanukkah books that are far too long and detailed to hold the interest of the 3 and 4 year-olds at my storytime. I don’t know that I’d put 13 Words in the same category, but it did make me laugh, and I will probably try it out at a storytime soon.